“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139: 7-10 RSV)
This last week, my wife and I went to North Carolina for her to see a medical specialist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham. Duke has one of the top programs for her type of medical disorder.
While there, we received the best of care. The medical team has extensive experience in treating her type of problem, and it is clear to us that we went to the right place. Following a clinic visit and a two day stay in the hospital, the doctors were able to pinpoint the problem and start my wife on a treatment regimen that we feel will eventually restore her to health.
Now, it was a whirlwind type of trip … and a long one. It took us about 16 hours to drive it each way. We left Sunday before last and arrived back home this past Monday. I have to admit that I am still “wore out,” as they say around back home.
We are very appreciative to the medical team at Duke, but we are even more thankful for the people here who helped us to make the trip. Our church and this community have been so generous and kind. Thank you.
After arriving back home, a number of people have commented that the trip to North Carolina is a “beautiful drive.” Indeed, it is a gorgeous part of the country.
The prettiest part of the trip is found in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The Smoky Mountains are just spectacular.
Ironically, though, that most beautiful part of the journey was also the most perilous. As I look back at that part of the trip, I remember the grandeur of the mountains along with the beauty of the trees and streams. However, those memories are also clouded with a profound sense of stress.
You see, the roads are quite steep and crooked and the traffic was heavy. Especially the trucks. Now, on the most dangerous portions of the road, trucks are required by law to stay in the right hand lane and go no more than 50 miles per hour. But do they? No. Most do not.
There is nothing more disconcerting than to be on a steep, winding highway with a truck in front of you, a truck beside you on your left, and another truck barreling down upon you from behind. Then, add to that the truck beside you beginning to creep over into your lane and there is a sheer cliff on your right.
That is mainly how I remember the “most beautiful part of the trip.” It was filled with the tension and stress of negotiating those steep curves while trying to avoid a collision.
That is a pretty good metaphor for life. Life is full of wonder, beauty and grace. However, most of the time, we tend to focus on the hectic parts of life’s journey. As a result, the good parts of life become a blur because we allow the stressful parts to distract us from the goodness around us.
As I think about it, the part of the country where we live here in Heber Springs is really as beautiful as the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. They may not be quite as tall or steep, but I will put the beauty of our mountains up against theirs any day.
Along the way somewhere, my wife and I stopped at one of those “information stations” on I-40. There, we noticed picture of a man standing in a stream as he was holding a fly rod. In the background was what looked like our own Sugarloaf Mountain. It looked just like it.
I remarked to my wife, “What do they have that we don’t?”
Yet, we who live here in our own beautiful part of the country also seem to get caught up in all the day-to-day stress of life and miss the wonder around us.
If that is true of the beauty right in front of our faces, then how much more does the stress of life obscure the presence of God from us?
The Psalmist reminds us, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139: 7-10 RSV)
No matter where we are, God is all around us. Will we continue to allow the worries of life to hide God from us? Or will we allow God’s presence to break through to us and lead us through the perils we face?
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)